“You look great, did you lose some weight?”
No. Maybe. I have no idea, why should you?
Honestly, most of the time I have no idea if I did lose half a pound here or there or not; I do not really keep track, and would really appreciate it if all of you didn’t either. I’m talking to you, careful observant, self-proclaimed Weight Watchers who happen to be my co-workers, friends, family members and also random people I barely know. It’s time to say it out loud: this is not a compliment, and I hardly find it flattering. It may come as a surprise to many of you, but as plus-size women we are fed-up with your ongoing inputs on how well our diet is working – whether we are actually on a diet or not.
Speaking for myself – but also for many others that I know – having to endure such “compliments” on a daily basis basically means being told over and over again that the way I am, and what I look like, are deemed wrong by almost everyone around me; I find it particularly annoying that among the observant commentators, whose preoccupation with our size and weight seems almost irrational to me, could find feminist and politically aware women and men who, while experienced in spotting many forms of injustice and political oppression in society, have remained oblivious to what has come to be known as “Fatphobia” – a sense of hatred or rejection towards fat people, practiced by individuals and institutions alike.
The first time I read “Black Skin, White Masks” by Frantz Fanon, I realized something important about my situation. In many ways I found Fanon’s description of a black person’s experience in an all-white society, validated in the experiences of fat women (and some men) in our hegemonic slim-a-be society. Among other things, I realized the political aspect of our oppression. As in Fanon’s analysis, the oppression here is twofold: Firstly, there is the negative branding of body fat by the Western beauty model regime, which puts us in an inferior position, and works to limit us in various ways; Secondly, as put by Fanon, here too there has been a gradual process in which fat people came to accept and internalize the degrading conceptions society has about them.
And this is what fatphobia is all about. Its oppressive methods and destructive consequences have yet to be fully analyzed, conceptualized and understood as political problems that invoke a political struggle for a change of approach, but however different from racial, gender-based or sexual prejudice and discrimination, fatphobia shares more than one thing in common with all of them. For example, here too science has been used and still is, in order to establish a hierarchic system of superior and inferior human beings, and to exercise control over the human body. In many cases, the common knowledge that science has on weight and obesity is fortified by negative social constructions and vice-versa. Together they prevent from us a better and more accurate understanding of various factors and causes related to weight gain and loss. And no, it’s really not about loving those (vegan) burgers and shawarma a little too much.
Every day, too many women and men undergo physical and emotional hurt, discrimination and maltreatment by both professional and personal sectors in their lives and surroundings; fat people are considered too often to be unhealthy and sick, even if they’re really, actually okay. And if they do have a medical problem, their doctors are likely to tell them that it’s because they’re obese, before even having examined them.
Fat people are frequently being shamed for their condition, labeled as “lazy”, “unmotivated”, “neglected” and much worse; they can be humiliated and disregarded because of their size, and suffer from actual discrimination in the fields of employment, medical care and customer service; sadly, fat children are very likely to suffer from bullying and harassment at schools.
In Western popular culture, literature and media, fat people are subjected to malicious and dehumanizing stereotypes that reinforce their marginalized position on the ground. Their image would be invoked to portray such characteristis as stupidity, corruption, evil nature and grotesque. These deeply rooted notions came to influence in various levels on contemporary societies elsewhere. That’s why it should come as no surprise that -going back to where we’ve started – when you find a fat person to be pretty, handsome and appealing, it corelates in mind to “weight loss”, as if it’s no longer possible to imagine a different social order than the one that we know, in which fat is bad, and bad is ugly.
Too often we will also find that these experiences and others, which could be life-long for many, are co-related to various mental problems such as feelings of self-hatred, depression and eating-disorders. Self-infliction of damage in various methods is also prevalent in many cases where people struggle to lose weight – a struggle with no promised results – as a means to attain a sense of respect and social recognition; to be seen as “people”, rather than “fat people”, or even animals; to be able to stand as equal human beings to others.
I say it’s time to put an end to all of this. As friends, partners, colleagues and family members, each and every one of you can play a major role in a process of social change, but for that to happen you need to question yourself first, to challenge your own perceptions and definitely, sometimes, reconsider your words; and you can speak up, too. It’s no longer okay to stay silent when fat people, men and women alike, are constantly being dehumanized in popular culture, on social media, at school, and elsewhere. Really, it’s time for society to accept us the way we are, regardless of our size, shape or how much we weigh. Simple as that.