Anyway you look at it, we're wrong

The other day, I accidentally exposed myself to bit of gossipy fat shaming over a celebrity's pregnancy related weight gain. I usually try to avoid this sort of thing, but that's the problem with a pervasive culture of fat stigmatization. You can try to mitigate it, but its far too present to ever be able to just ignore.

I quickly realized, though, that there were actually three "scandals" I was aware of at the moment relating to new mothers getting shamed for for their bodies. That seems like more than is even usual, but that may be because the intense "gotchya" instinct to root out any celebrities not doing their "job" and being thin and pretty at all times. Bollywood star Aishwarya Rai, singer and wannabe diet spokesperson Jessica Simpson, and actress Bryce Dallas Howard have all received scrutiny for varying degrees of transgressive non-thinness. Actually, in the process of writing this post, I've also learned that former teen star Hilary Duff was also getting scorn for not being an appropriate size less than a month after the birth of her child.

Perhaps against my better judgment, I waded into the comments of an article breathlessly sharing photos of Bryce Dallas Howard. What struck me as really discouraging was how every possible angle on this endorses and affirms fat shaming. Critics and supporters of Howard, alike, consistently framed their position in a manner unflinchingly approving of fat hate. You'd think this would just be limited to the people making crass insults about her current size or those who try to seem more reasonable by setting aside snide insults in favor for solemn scolding about how motherhood is no excuse for weight gain. You expect fat hate from those camps

What's really disheartening is how the acceptable defense of Howard and other celebrities like her is framed. Her defenders may call for compassion and understanding, but only from a perspective which concedes that fat is an improper state of being. They call for compassion not because fat people deserve respect. They do so out of pity. The "understanding" they speak of is built around the idea that fat is an awful thing to have happened to them and we should all be sympathetic with their plight. Its less a retort to fat shaming, and more a call for limited restraint while we allow people perceived to be temporary fat, transactionally fat, to get their affairs in order. They have no dispute with fat people being awful. They just think some fat people can have a chance to correct themselves if the circumstances of their fatness merit pity.

In a lot of ways, I find this attitude to be far more harmful and damaging than more overt fat shaming because of the sense of smug, self-satisfaction that comes with it. Well, not just the smugness. Most fat shamers have an over-abundances of smugness and self-righteousness, but its the nature of this smugness that really gets to me. See, they are smug because they think they are different from direct fat shamers. They flatter themselves and their sense of compassion with their patronizing pity. They feel entitled to their smugness in a way that's much more harmfully self-aggrandizing than those who jump right to snark and scolding. They try to capture all the privilege that comes with being a fat shamer, but then also lay claim to being enlightened about it.

In the end, "reasonable" fat hate is what empowers it's more overt and vicious forms. It is a symbiotic relationship where the two positions try to define the discussion of fatness as a binary where both sides agree that fat people are irredeemably wrong. This is never more obvious than when I see how non-fat positive spaces "debate" fatness. Fat liberation views have no place at the table. Its just a bunch of people arguing over how best to hate us. While "reasonable" fat hate puts a lot of stock into feeling morally superior to overt fat hate, it still fundamentally affirms it as an acceptable position. The idea that a person can gain weight without this being a personal failing at all? Not so much. No, you can debate when there should be consequences for the "moral failing". You can debate how much pity to offer those beset by the moral failing. You can even make conditional excuses for the moral failing. But you cannot question its wrongness.

I know these celebrities aren't going to be the faces of fat liberation. All will almost certainly lose the weight that is expected of them by whatever means necessary and employing enormous resources that bare no resemblance to how most people live their lives. Still, in a very real way, these are who fat liberation is fighting for. We're fighting for a world where people aren't just arguing over how to best hate and discourage fat people. We're fighting for a world where someone's weight is not a condition of social acceptance. We're fighting for a world where people aren't pilloried if their body happens to change and find itself at a larger size. We're not okay with people discussing fatness so as anyway you look at it, we're wrong. We're not participating in that mindset and culture at all. We're demanding something else. Not just for the fat people who've gotten to the place where we can stand nothing else, but for us all. We deserve better. Every last one of us.


Brian said...

It occured to me while discussing the CDC's collaboration in fat shaming with HBO, that there really isn't much different from what they do and what the gossip sites do. They appropriate fat bodies for the solemn hand wringing of the fat celeb defenders I describe, but their intent isn't that much removed from the people snidely mocking those fat celebs. I'll need to expand on that in a later post.

Regina T said...

How about expanding on the fact that most commenters/ fat- haters/ concern trolls who happen to be " average size" have smugness that is solely based on the genetic cards they were dealt which gives them that false sense of moral superiority? In other words, there are those that actually believe they were better people, with more restraint and self control because they aren't fat. You see it every time some commenter states that at people "just" need to do what "they" do....as if their behaviors somehow hold more stock than their genetic DNA. I know you've touched on this but it's become so out of control and obvious, that fat people can't help but feel morally corrupted by their fat rolls.

Brian said...

Oh, certainly. There is a lot of "born on second base and thought they hit a double" entitlement from fat shamers who aggressively defend the "credit" they get for being thin or average by enforcing fat stigmatization. They are quite invested in feeling like they've done something worthy of praise by just living in their natural bodies.

fatfairy said...

Second what's been said. Also. every woman i ever knew who gave birth was exhausted for months from the birth itself, no sleep, feeding, et. c and was in no condition to worry about frivolous trifles like her weight and figure.
My mother had a rather funny piece of folk wisdom about baby weight. She said there was no reason to worry since when the kid is two, you'll lose it all running after her.

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