Some benefits of being aware of fat stigmatization

While looking through my blog's stats, I noted a number of links coming from Sociological Images. Specifically, from a post where the author considers the "benefits" of being fat. As you might suspect, this is not actually the conversation the author is having, but rather it is an example of the kind of "this must be why you're so fat" line of thinking that has come up so often in the #thingsfatpeoplearetold. I replied with a comment, but I wanted to include it here as well...

I'm afraid your evidence does not seem to support your conclusion. As the #thingsfatpeoplearetold meme demonstrates, fat people are told all manner of things and given the existing social structure, many fat people feel an obligation to be credulous. The lesbian quoted did not independently think she gained weight to distance herself from male attraction, but rather was told to think that. Even in that context, it is not a suggestion of an active instigation, but rather a psychological explanation. The fact that we feel the need to psychologically explain the existence of fat people, though, is far more telling. It is an effort for privileged persons to rationalize the existence of an underprivileged group. This very act is one not of understanding, but of enforcement of stigmatization. Fat people are told something must be blamed for our presence. This is never an act of respect. It does not matter of blame is laid on ourselves for perceived immoralities, on psychological desires rooted in formalizing our disempowerment, or corporate conspiracies to deprive us of exalted thinness.

The Postsecret post is, at least, in the actual voice of a fat person, but it still doesn't tell us anything about why she came to be fat and it is still a reflection of all too common clich├ęs that fat people are told. The writer has learned to hold herself responsible for her body. She has been told to explain her body, to rationalize it. She presumes that she could be thin because she has been told this is the only allowed presumption a fat person can have. She frames her attempted justification not on why she is fat, but why she is not thin. THIS is what fat people are told to answer for just as much as "why are you so fat". It presumes that weight loss, which fails 95% of the time, is still expected of us and any failure to lose weight is the sole responsibility of the fat person. She is not expressing an answer as to why she was fat in the first place, though. Rather, she is trying to answer for her continued fatness. The truth, though, is that she is not afraid to lose weight. She may be afraid that weight loss won't solve her problems (it won't), but she is not afraid to lose weight. She wants it desperately. She, like so many fat people, has been made to feel personally responsible for the fact that her weight loss efforts have not succeeded. Like many others, she has apologetically concluded "she doesn't want it bad enough".

This isn't about benefits of fatness. These are illustrations of the shame and stigmatization imposed on fat people.


Samantha C. said...

hah cool - I linked the post with your writeup of #thingsfatpeoplearetold hoping it might go over well. Your comment was fantastic.

Of course, it was hard to figure out how to respond to the post. I do think there's a sociological point to be made if women believe that fat will be protective from negative sexual attention, even moreso if it isn't actually something that turns out to be true. But I felt like the post treated the "fat is protective against leers" idea as a fact when it ought to have bothered to challenge the idea.

Thanks so much for the whole project. It's been very powerful.

Brian said...

Its definitely something worth discussing, but not with the level of credulity in that post. It not only accepted on faith the rationale that fat people are exempt from the male gaze, but also that this reasoning originates from fat people. The first being obviously untrue and the second being relatively easy to deduce. Heck, one of the proofs offered said specifically that it was an idea imposed upon her. The nature of the things fat people tell themselves is absolutely something to talk about, but I'd challenge any discussion that simply endorses fat stigmatization as necessarily true.

biomechanical923 said...

[TW: rape]

"Being fat, they hope, will protect them from being looked at, unwanted touching, and sexual assault."

Because fat people are NEVER sexually abused, right?

I think that entire brand of rationalization is absolute nonsense.

Notice how you never hear this rationalization used to "justify" other marginalized groups. (Oh you must have become X to make yourself less attractive)

wriggles said...

What a turdbath that thread is, I cannot believe I actually bothered to waste my time trying to get through to these people when they think they are so clever and cannot see the noses on their face.

I'll leave that to others who speak their language from now on.

Sorry to vent, but I'm so fed up of the lack of desire to hear what we are trying to say whilst lecturing us about "both sides" and how balanced the same old hackneyed fat phobia is.

Just what do you have to say to show that you have come to your point of view by considering the totality of things, rather than just ill considered defensiveness?

I'm tired of the necessary fiction that we act solely in bad faith because we don't bow to falsehood, just because it dominates.

biomechanical923 said...

"Just what do you have to say to show that you have come to your point of view by considering the totality of things, rather than just ill considered defensiveness?"

Privilege affords people the illusion of objectivity.

Brian said...

@biomechanical923 Like I said, the fact that fat people are told these things AND made to feel these things is definitely worth talking about, but taking them at face value is just stigmatizing and denies fat experience. We need to question those ideas and that discussion was alarmingly incurious about the validity of those fat shaming cliches.

@wriggles I am also fed up with those who flatter themselves with their "moderation" of fat issues just because they aren't calling for fat people to be jailed. These are the people who control the debate and ensure fat acceptance is always portrayed as radical so that their beliefs can remain privileged as the "middle ground". Fat acceptance is actually moderate in all of this. We're arguing for finding peace with our bodies, not forcing one POV over another. We just live in such a fucked up world that acceptance is radicalized.

JupiterPluvius said...

As a fat woman who is a survivor of a rape that occurred while I was fat, I found that discussion very very painful to read. Thanks (not) for erasing my experience, Sociological Images! I thought that the entries there were supposed to be sociological queries of mainstream culture images, not simple reiteration of them.

And thanks (really) for discussing the problems with this stuff here, Brian.

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