A day or so ago, I saw an article on MSN.com that told of all these “concerned” Cosmo readers that thought Tess Holliday, the plus-sized model, shouldn’t have been given the coveted cover of the magazine because her obesity “promotes an unhealthy lifestyle.” And I saw right through that concerned-sounding argument to the truth poorly hidden within it. These “concerned” readers weren’t concerned about Tess Holliday’s health; they were concerned about the social-sexual hierarchy being reconfigured and what that would mean for them.
I was angry. Because I am also a fat woman. I chose the headshot for this web site, in fact, to very deliberately camouflage that fact. Because people generally react to fat people and particularly fat females very cruelly and dismissively.
Yet, however ashamed I am of being fat (and I am) or anxious I am about people’s reactions to my fatness (and I am), I never lie about my size, under any circumstances. I never lie to myself about the fact that I am fat or allow other people to think I am not fat. So I feel a deep kinship to Tess Holliday, and I felt very empathetic and angry for her when in what should’ve been a moment of triumph she was being castigated and under the cowardly guise of “care” at that.
So I wrote this Facebook post in solidarity:
The argument that fat women shouldn’t be models because they promote unhealthy lifestyles is bullshit.
Nobody is going to get brainwashed into thinking that fat is a good thing in this culture that absolutely hates fat bodies. Come on now.
But what will happen if we erase fat bodies from mainstream media is “regular” fat people will suffer. If fat people aren’t represented as attractive or smart or kind or capable or anything other than greedy, unprincipled, and pathetic, then it will be hard for not fat people to see fat people as more than their weight or weight problem.
Obesity is seen as a moral failing in our culture. But let me tell you. As a person that is morbidly obese according to medical standards, I do so much agonizing over what I eat. I feel guilty about everything I put in my mouth. I am ashamed any time I lock eyes with anyone while I’m eating. I do not like my body. My confidence suffers because I am fat. And my self-image. I buy into the myth that there is something wrong with my character – with my personhood – because I haven’t been able to whittle my body into some semblance of “perfection.” I don’t lack standards or let myself off the hook because I don’t measure up to them.
I gained weight during a lengthy clinical depression, and in the midst of that depression, developed binge eating disorder as a coping mechanism. Before that I was 155 lbs. Now I am 239 lbs. I was able to witness firsthand as people’s responses to me changed for the negative along with my weight. And some of the shit that was put on me? THAT was immoral.
People are unnecessarily cruel to fat people, often taking it upon themselves to punish us for the transgression of struggling outwardly and unsuccessfully with our eating habits and inner selves. They act as if we all woke up one random day and decided that we wanted to be fat. They act as if we all are content to be fat. They act as if we all saw clearly what we were doing to ourselves when we were gaining and intended to plunge ourselves into a world of health problems, public censure, and extreme physical and mental discomfort. And I say “they act like” because anyone that took a minute would know that isn’t true. Nobody wants to be fat. Fat is the symptom of some other shit we’re trying to work out or from which we are literally insulating ourselves.
And yes there are some fat people that have decided that they are done with the self-destructive cycle of hating themselves into a frenzy then trying like maniacs to lose weight, launching repeated attacks on themselves until they mentally collapse from the craziness of fighting on both sides of the war – being the negative voice that says they are awful and being the positive voice that says they are not awful, just their circumstance is. Some people win this war, and good on them. But a lot of people don’t and they don’t need or deserve outside voices to tell them that they are terrible because of that. They already have a lot of inner voices saying that. They typically already feel bad enough about themselves.
The lack of compassion for fat people is comprehensible, but not understandable or forgivable. We let people fight all their other personal battles on their own terms except this one. That’s a lack of respect. That’s a lack of sympathy. It is not concern. Concern doesn’t say hide away in shame for your imperfection. It doesn’t say fuck everything else you are, the only thing that matters is you’re fat; we can’t talk about anything else until you get that together, no matter how much the rest of you might need recognizing or tending.
The real reason we criticize and in some cases outright excoriate fat people is way more selfish and vain than concern. We are so afraid of becoming the “disgusting” fat person that we hate to be reminded of the possibility and take it out on perfect strangers or so-called loved ones. Or we are still so dissatisfied in our culturally acceptable bodies that we need an outlet for our frustration and make that unbidden, unhelpful commentary on the “health” of fat people.
Tess Holliday is fat. But she is gorgeous. She has a right to be on the cover of Cosmo. And people that say otherwise aren’t saying that because she promotes an unhealthy lifestyle. Is there much that IS healthy about the way stars live? Yet, no one says don’t put this person that is very probably over-restricting her calories, over-exercising, and getting pharmaceutical help to keep herself at a size 0 as a grown ass woman (a weight that is only natural to a very small segment of people) on the cover of Cosmo because SHE promotes an unhealthy lifestyle. Because health isn’t the issue in this discussion. Size is.
And I say that since they care so much supposedly about being healthy, the least fat-hating and fat-shaming people can do is take the heat for being fat-hating and fat-shaming – be healthy in their willingness to take accountability for their discriminatory attitudes and behavior. Stop trying to masquerade as compassionate people when they’re not.
Because either you care about all the negative body imagery out there or none of it. Targeting fat people exclusively is targeting fat people exclusively.
And people need to stop. They need to worry about themselves and their need to be nasty to other people in order to feel good about themselves. They need to worry about how disingenuous they are. They need to worry about their weird emotional investment in things like magazine covers when there are so many more important things in the world to worry about.
And leave fat people alone. Fucking just leave people alone. Fuck. Don’t buy shit if you don’t like it, but don’t be that asshole that has to attack it.
Be better than that.
People think that if you have a big body, it shields you from the pain of humiliation, rejection, and castigation. Or more aptly they think that because you have a big body, you deserve humiliation, rejection, and castigation. And that to me is more unhealthy that anybody’s struggle with obesity.
Fat people don’t lack humanity because they are fat, but judgmental and I daresay solipsistic people do lack humanity because they refuse to think about the often profound effects of their words and actions on others.
They are the people that need concern. They are the people that need help. And most importantly they are the people that need calling out.
They are the people that need to be “healthier.” Because their negativity does nothing but add toxicity to the already poisoned well that is American pop culture.
Now, don’t think I am uneducated on this issue or I am being blindly defensive. Obesity is a serious health issue and is generally comorbid with a lot of serious mental and emotional issues. Fat people do often need help managing these issues. I know that is the case. I am not denying it.
However, I am saying that over and above everything, we need the space everyone else is afforded to be ourselves and work out our body and food issues in our own ways and on our own terms.
Because in the final analysis, our fat isn’t adding any more to people’s healthcare costs than cigarette smokers’ poisoned tissues or drug addicts’ compromised brain cells or I could go on and on when it comes to listing serious and widespread medical issues in this country that cost us all millions of dollars. So let’s not go there either.
Because, again, in the final-final analysis, fat people’s fat isn’t hurting anyone else more than it hurts us.