Fatness is an American mortal sin. This is not a new situation, but I’m overjoyed to see the beginnings of a cultural backlash about it. The most recent example of this is the controversy over the comments of one Maria Kang, fitness devotee/advocate/competitor/model, who was recently (temporarily) banned from Facebook because she said some unpleasant things about fat people.
What Kang doesn’t understand is that MANY people have conditions that conspire to make them to gain weight no matter what they do. I read what Kang wrote, and the passive-aggressive hatefulness of it made me feel like shit about myself yet again … As if everything unspoken in our culture doesn’t do enough to make me feel like shit about myself.
I’m a 5’8″ female with 20″ across shoulders (so, no small bone structure here). My BMI is 33 (Class I Obese, the lowest classification of obesity). There are legitimate medical reasons for my BMI, but narcissistic, emotionally ugly, bullying people like Kang say that it’s a lack of discipline and laziness that causes it. The Fatties suck! drumbeat of people like her just never stops, but this time … Facebookers complained and she was briefly banned.
Kang’s sort of bullying and our cultural drumbeat of personal failure regarding being overweight/obese infuriate me. I have a hiatal hernia which literally makes me feel hungry every.single.hour.of.every.single.day if I don’t have the money to refill my TWO prescription acid medications (money I don’t always have). Combined with not-well-treated sleep disorders (yes, five diagnosed sleep disorders, only two of which are moderately-well treated) that sap my strength and energy within 8 hours of waking, and some days it’s all I can do to not fall asleep at the wheel on the way home.
I’m single, and I have only one income in my household. When it’s all I can do to work some days, and I have no energy after the 8-hour mark every day, the constant cultural drumbeat of You’re gross because you’re fat! makes me feel like a failure as a human being.
The drumbeat is so insistent, and so ingrained, that I can’t even avoid it on a technology blog. During a discussion on my favorite technology blog relating to a post about Facebook’s always vague and often contradictory moderation policies, a post that suggests allowing speech to flow freely (instead of being shut down) is a better alternative to Facebook’s current (apparently random) decisions, I found this gem from an anonymous poster:
is it not often the case that when the truth is posted, a lot of people dont like it and cant handle it. i wonder how many of those that wanted her post deleted and her account shut were members of the ‘i am as fat as fuck, dont want to stop eating but cant handle being told what i am’ club?
Thanks, anonymous poster, for echoing the Fatties are failures! drumbeat in the same passive-aggressive tone that Kang employed. This kind of garbage is all over the internet, and permeates the wider unspoken/unwritten American culture that programs us all to think that the overweight are defective, and you both had to add more? You felt the need to raise yourself a little by standing on the backs of every overweight person in America. That’s simply poor form, indicative of being raised improperly, and symptomatic of a stunning lack of empathy.
In actually, I’d bet money that a large percentage of the people who complained to Facebok are in my situation, or know someone who is, or who are enlightened enough to have some fscking empathy and the ability to realize that not everyone is them. This nascent whiff of backlash against our cultural drumbeat is refreshing, because without it, we’re not going to see progress.
Kang hangs her concern-troll bullying on the hook of what she sees as normalizing obesity in our culture and that normalization fueling the American healthcare crisis. What she neglects to consider is that her own history of disordered eating, recovery, and maintenance is her own experience. It’s personal to her; it’s not applicable to most of the rest of us. She also neglects to remember that she had the fortune of being able to obtain assistance with her own medical condition … Something you’d think would cause her to have a bit of empathy. Instead, she acts like so many other people who don’t have weight issues act: Pompous, arrogant, holier-than-thou, and resentful that others aren’t like her.
Because Kang has the luck to be in a situation not like mine, and not like others, she’s angry that the rest of the country isn’t idolizing and emulating her and raising her on a pedestal. This lack of worship is what she’s seeing as normalizing obesity, and she thinks it’s the rest of us who have a jacked-up outlook?
It’s clear to me that (while I am not a doctor), there’s something to be said here about not having conquered one’s own disordered relationship with one’s body and having simply channeled the mental illness into a different physical manifestation … The one, of course, that our culture approves of most, sickening as that is. Physical fitness should not be our primary value of personal worth, and our overall culture is as ill as Kang is.
Yes, Americans are fatter now than we used to be. Our culture’s fat shaming has to stop if we’re going to tackle the issue. I’m glad people complained to Facebook, and I’m glad there’s a wider dialogue because … What exactly does Kang and everyone like her (which is MOST of us, by the way!) propose I, and others with legitimate medical reasons for higher BMIs (constantly characterized as, lazy, irresponsible, undisciplined, uncaring, slobby, food-face-stuffing, dirty, stupid people), actually do? Hide under bridges until we die so as not to offend their eyes with our weight and burden their health insurance premiums with issues that we didn’t ask to have? Yeah, that’s productive.
Trust me, we overweight people would really LIKE to be fscking normal. Seriously, even those of us who insist upon trying to have some pride in ourselves, lives, and abilities (contrary to the Fatties are nasty! drumbeat) would like to be be approved of within our own culture. We’d like to be thin, and trim, and active: Everything our culture programs us as children andbeats into our heads every waking moment of every waking day that we should be. We have the burden of Atlas in shame in our souls over this already, and the fat-shaming internet commenters, bloggers, talking heads, and everyone else needs to grow an empathy muscle and take a moment to try to understand where the overweight are coming from when we scream ENOUGH ALREADY!!
I’m glad Kang was smacked back down like the narcissistic troll she is (‘What’s YOUR excuse?’ she asks, because, yeah, everyone’s just like her), but I personally think FB should have simply removed the post if they were going to take any action at all. She deserves a good proverbial smacking (which she received), but her non-apology makes it clear that she can’t be taught a damned thing about human kindness. While I believe that she cannot be repaired as a human being, that doesn’t take the responsibility to speak up in argument.
Weight is complex. There are many, many reasons people are overweight, and the reasons are often complex. The’re often medical, and they’re often emotional. When humans gain weight, their physiology is fulfilling its evolutionary destiny, even if it’s out of control. No amount of crippling the psyches of affected people is going to change any of this.
How about an intelligent conversation about a multidisciplinary approach to obesity reduction and life-long weight control? We have so much technology at our disposal to have such a conversation and begin to find solutions, but we’re using it to continue the most harmful course we could: cultural shaming . Kang and everyone like her (who, again, are MOST of us!), are not helping.
Don’t fall into the trap; don’t participate in this degrading portion of our American culture. Fight for real solutions. Don’t take the easy way out. Remember always that the overweight want to not be that way. Many of us don’t have the tools we need to be anything else, though, and for many of us, being thin and trim is simply not possible in our situation. Stop assuming, start listening, and start fighting our toxic Fatties Suck! American culture.
- Fit Mom Banned From Facebook for Fat-Shaming Is ‘Sorry Not Sorry’ (jezebel.com)
- Is Big Beautiful? (ashleylavallee.wordpress.com)
- “Fit Mom” lashes out at “regular” women’s selfies (salon.com)