The Agent of OBESITY Initiative

So, let me tell you a story. A couple days ago, I was checking my blog's stats and noticed someone had come to my blog from Feministe. Curious about the context, I clicked through to the post and discovered a minor fat hate free-for-all over New York's plan to limit the sizes of sodas because... um, fat people. Disappointingly, Jill Filipovic comes out pro-STOP THE FATNESS and the commenters mostly follow her lead, feeling unburdened with the need to respect fat people and giddy at the opportunity to concern troll fatties to their hearts content. I was not surprised to find that the link there was to Fat Hate Bingo as the comment thread was pretty much covering the Bingo cards in the rush to hand-wring over fatness. Its just the sort of discussion progressives tend to have when showing that fat stigma is non-partisan with a lot of outrage at the suggestion they are disrespecting fat people, only outdone by the actual disrespecting of fat people. Sadly, its nothing I haven't seen before.

In scanning the comments, one thing jumped out at me. One commenter had praised New York's fat shaming, saying "I’m glad to see a move against an agent of obesity." The continued on with some boiler-plate liberal fat hate about consumeristic culture of over-consumption, blah, blah, blah, but that phrase struck me as kind of funny. Soda is an "agent of obesity"? Fat people have agents now? Out servicing our agenda? Obviously, this was a person who prefers their fat shaming with a big dose of dehumanization, regarding "obesity" only as some nebulous concept and forgetting about the actual fat people that exist that they are trashing, but I couldn't help giggling at the concept of being an "agent of obesity". Like a spy organization? We have secret agents in service of OBESITY.

And off I went. I went over to Twitter and made a joke about the remark. Then created a hashtag. Then saw a bunch of other people joining in the fun, imagining our secret agent code names. Mine is Nick Fatty, Agent of O.B.E.S.I.T.Y. I even came up with acronym for that! Operatives Built with Exceptional Size Imperiling Thinness' Yoke. And from there I expanded to Tumblr and created my secret agent portrait and even an official seal for O.B.E.S.I.T.Y. (Which I've now typed enough times to wish I wasn't amused by the periods denoting the acronym). And eventually portraits of a whole lot of other O.B.E.S.I.T.Y. agents having fun with this as well. Heck, there are even t-shirts!

It occurs to me that this all might seem rather strange. The phrase "agent of obesity" was used to scare us, to stigmatize our bodies. To make us something other. And here we all are having a jolly time coming up with silly fat jokes and pun as our nick names. (The Incredible Bulk, Fatness Neverlean, Emma Frosting, Feastmaster) We came with other silly acronyms (FAT COW is Field Agent Training in Championing Obese Women, FAT PIG is Field Agent Training in Promoting Immense Gents), one of the Agent portraits features a fat superhero shooting laser donuts from her hand, I suggested an army of fatties in CPAP masks called our Sleeper Agents. How could we have so much fun with fat hate?

Well, what else are we to do with fat hate by belittle and diffuse it? And humor is a great way of sucking the venom out of hate. I'm not saying we always have to respond to fat stigma with humor, of course. Gosh knows I'm well known for my righteous indignation, but that doesn't mean humor can't be in our toolbox as well. Humor is used to dismantle the foundations of hate and shame built up to pen us in. We laugh at it. We scoff at the hate. Why should we take you seriously when you are fretting over an "agent of obesity"? Why shouldn't we regard that with all the respect it deserves? None. In the end, it feels silly to even say this was started by something at Feministe because we are so past that one bitter attack. Its about mocking the self-righteousness of fat stigma with goofy silliness. They demand to have our bodies acknowledged as a grave threat to all of civilization. We respond by imagining a network of super spies with silly puns for codenames. Seems like an appropriate response to me.

Humor's not just a tool to fight oppression. Its also a tool to simply cope with it. When we use humor to mock fat hate, we aren't belittling the problems of fat stigmatization, we are trying to find ways of dealing with it. When we create our own mocking language around fatness, we make it that much harder to hurt us when someone comes along trying to use humor to put us in our place. It means we already know our damn place and know we want nothing of it.

Fat Heffalump has already covered this with a lot more eloquence than I've mustered. I know it sounds like I'm being dour and serious about humor, but I guess in a way I am and that's okay. Mostly, though, I'm just having fun and amusing myself and that's great, too.

So join the revolution and sign up with O.B.E.S.I.T.Y. today. They say they want a war on obesity? Well, O.B.E.S.I.T.Y. is fighting back!

(UPDATE: I've removed the Tumblr and Twitter links as I've taken them all down. I'm not comfortable exercising the role I had to with this project and would rather take it down than upset or offend anyone. I'm sorry.)


CelestialAxis said...

T-shirt is about to be purchased. I'm thinking "Thunder Thighs" for my name. :D

sweeny said...

Those t-shirts are fabulous! And reading some of the names people have at Kath's blog.. some of those are wonderful too.

I really value what you do, Brian.

Have you seen the Fatty Thor.. tumbr? twitter? I don't know what it is, but I follow it in my rss reader. It isn't FA exactly, but I adore it!

Sleepydumpling said...

Brian I have been having immense fun with this whole meme, I've not clapped and laughed and danced with glee over a meme like this in quite some time. I love how these things evolve and how they become so empowering for the community of fatties that join in. I have loved the diversity among the Agents, I have loved the bad puns and poking fun at "obesity mortalities" and the like.

This is radical shit. I'm not sure people quite realise just how radical this is. But it's one of the ways that we tip the usual rhetoric on it's head.

I look forward to seeing more Agents assemble! And thanks for the link love.

SunflowerP said...

(Grr. I've yet to be able to comment here, though I've been reading since you were faceless and nearly anonymous. This time I'm going to keep trying... and copy my post before hitting publish, so I don't have to reconstruct it again.)

It looks like no one has yet claimed Fata Hari (maybe my age is showing?) - I'd love to use it.

I'll need to consult with my partner (O.B.E.S.I.T.Y. Agent Ribeye, IIRC) before submitting a photo for suitable 'shopping; we may want a joint one.

Sleepydumpling is right about this being very radical. What you said above, Brian, about dehumanization? I think many fat shamers really don't think actual fat people exist - they believe thinness is a normative state, and fat folks are actually thin people on whom fatness has been imposed, by Evil Corporate Food or our own moral weakness (or both). They expect us to behave in accordance with this "fact", and distance ourselves from our fatness, disown it.

But with projects like this, we're not just refusing to comply with the expectation of disownership, we actively own our fatness - and pwn fatphobia. (Own and Occupy - we are the 99% butterfat :-)!)


Twistie said...

You know, I said over on SleepyDumpling's blog that I was... what was it... it was something about cakes, though, I remember that. But I think I want to change my name. I am now The Cooking Monster, and I still wield the Rolling Pin of Justice.

I feel better having come up with a halfway decent pun at last.

Also, if my husband does not wind up being furloughed for the entire month of August, then I'm going to get a tee shirt... and probably a Fat Hate Bingo tote bag, too. I need to add to my justice wardrobe.

theghettocyborg said...

This is so awesome! The only thing that would make those agent portraits better in my eyes would be if your background was a call-out to that op-art style Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD cover art that has been parodied so much.

I love the use of humor as a tool for changing how people think, and if it's nerdy humor that's even better.

dee.calarco said...

You mean a takeoff on this type of image? Or more like this?

ckaricai said...

Black Coffy Cake reporting for duty. And in case you have forgotten, I can hide weapons in my afro and betweeen my rolls. I speak eight languages including Jive, and my coffee cakes are deadly. Eat one, and you'll gain twice your body weight in 30 days. I am the fat black scourge that incapacitates agents that are more privileged than me. And yes, I do have a secret black power agenda. So to answer your question, yes the media is spot on; I am in fact fat black female and dangerous. You dig?

Marzipan Mouse said...

I've been Marzipan Mouse for years now. I guess it's not the most dynamic agent name. Maybe i can work in the OBESITY personnel dept? I guess I'd make a good sniper. >^.^<

Brian said...

I'm in awe with the continued, fantastic suggestions! I wondered at first if this would be just the sort of thing that struck me as funny and no one else, so I'm downright giddy at the way everyone has jumped into the pool with me.

I'm still doing some Agent portraits for anyone who wants in. You can send me pics to my blog email and I'll see what I can do. Thank you, everyone!

Brian said...

Just so everyone knows, I've taken down the posts about this and am not going to be doing it anymore. I'm not comfortable taking on a role of policing and enforcing other people's participation. I think for a lot of reasons that can be problematic for me to do, but there is no other way to do it that might not be offensive and problematic to others, so I'm just not going to do it. I'm sorry.

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