ALL fat bodies are made into a public concern

Like most fat people, Chris Christie is apologetic for his body. Most fat people have internalized the fat shaming that gets directed at them every day of their lives. Most never even think to question it. Of course they shouldn't be fat. Its not a topic they ever give any consideration. Indeed, they often have more hostility towards fat activists because of this. Its important to remember, though, that internalizing fat shame doesn't immunize you from it.

There has been lot of concern trolling of Chris Christie lately along those very lines. People are gravely concerned about the prospects of him running for President. Not for his politics, mind you, but for his health. He obviously is much too unhealthy to consider higher office. This concern trolling has now reached the editorial pages of the Washington Post thanks to a supremely self-righteous bit of concern trolling from Eugene Robinson. He acknowledges that Christie feels ashamed of his size, but this merely justifies his paternalistic lecture about how Christie needs to lose weight if he plans to run for President. It is a shameful hit-piece and has no place in our political discussion. It builds on all sorts of tired and clichéd attacks on fat people.

Perhaps the most fundamental being the notion that this needs to be said. It is always preposterous when you see people so proud of themselves for stepping up and telling a fat person to stop being so fat. Already, we're seeing other pundits contribute to this by congratulating Robinson for saying the things that needed to be said. Why does everyone person who tries to put fatties in their place think they are the first person to do so? Heck, Robinson even quotes Christie saying he knows all of this. Christie AGREES, but that's still not enough to prevent the smug satisfaction over "telling it like it is".

Robinson also asserts that Christie is obviously too unhealthy to run for President. His proof? Well, just look at him being all fat and stuff. It takes him a while to offer anything more than his obvious fatness to justify his obvious lack of health, and even then the evidence is weaker than he'd like us to believe. Christie has had problems with asthma and was hospitalized for it briefly over the summer. When this happened, Christie obviously takes responsibility for his fatness, but also noted that he's relatively healthy by objective indicators. That doesn't slow Robinson down who proceeds to threaten Christie with the usual litany of fat diseases he's obviously going to fat himself with any day now.

Robinson continues by trotting out some dubious statistics about how fat people are causing the national health crisis. He tries to be clear that he's not blaming Christie for the National Debt crisis, shortly after blaming all fat people for the National Debt crisis. Easier to blame us collectively than individually, but don't forget that you can't do one without the other. We can't all be responsible for something without being responsible as individuals. Fat people having higher health care costs is something oft asserted, but with little discussion of what goes into that. Reading through Robinson's evidence, at least part of the increase is just based on costs associated with trying to make fat patients into not-fat patients. We'll never know much of the increase is due to fat people not receiving adequate preventive care due to stigmas involving seeking medical treatment while fat nor how much may be attributable to the life-time of weight cycling seen in virtually all fat patients who have made countless attempts to lose weight.

Robinson concludes by giving false lip-service to the notion that Christie isn't at fault for his weight. Sadly, this kind of tone is used by a lot of liberals eager to shame fat people collectively but rightfully squeamish about doing it individually. They like to talk about how they understand genetic factors, or they may try to blame evil corporations. Anything to comfort themselves with the notion that they aren't bullying fat people even while they are talking about how we need to eliminate fat people. Its an extremely hollow bit of pandering that I'm getting quite sick of. You can't write a whole column about how Christie needs to stop being so fat already and just assert that you aren't blaming him so you are somehow so terribly mature. Its a charade and one fat people aren't falling for. When you fixated on shaming and stigmatizing fatness, you are shaming and stigmatizing fat people. I don't care if you want to think you're better than that, but you aren't. You aren't saying anything different than all of the other people who tell us every day that our bodies are unacceptable. Your message is substantively NO different, no matter how you want to excuse it to yourselves.

Again, though, the tragedy of all of this is like with most fat shaming, its directed at someone who agrees with it. Maybe Christie will object to the the tone or venue, but he's repeatedly endorsed the substance. Yet people will still make a point to shame him over and over and over again. Christie will win himself no reprieve for his own acceptance of shame for his weight. It simply doesn't matter to the people doing the shaming. To them, if he didn't want to be shamed for his body, he should just stop being so fat at them.

What bothers me the most with Robinson's article, though, is his self-justification where he explains why this is his business. Christie's weight isn't a private matter, you see, because he has chosen to enter the public arena. Much like the "hasn't anyone told you to stop being fat" sentiment, this is the sort of wildly divorced from reality assertion that any fat person should just laugh at it. Really, his body is a public concern just because he's a public figure? Funny, because to most fat people, it seems like people are always making our bodies their business. No special justification needed, this is just another day in the life for a fat person. Our bodies are always treated like public property and we are subjected to repeated shaming and belittling for our transgressive size. Robinson may want to act like he's just making a special allowance for himself, but this is no special risk Christie faces for being in the public eye. Going out in public while fat is enough to make it a public issue for most people. What is happening to Christie is happening to fat people every day. Don't think for a second that he's some kind of special victim for being a fat politician, nor that he faces some sort of special responsibility for it, either. This is positively mundane.

I'm no fan of Christie politically. I think he'd make an awful President. There are lots of ways to make that case without concern trolling him for being fat. That is unequivocally wrong and I demand better. There is nothing mature about fixating on his weight instead of his policies. Christie gives people ample reason to oppose him based on his ideology. That has far more to do with how he'll govern than his pants size.


Its not discrimination if I think its wrong for everyone!

In reading some of the discussion around L Word actress Leisha Hailey being kicked off a Southwest Air flight for kissing her girlfriend, I was reminded of a favorite defense trotted out in favor of discrimination. "But I think publicly kissing your partner is wrong no matter what your sexuality!" Indeed, its Southwest's defense here, too. Its not the sexual orientation, its the behavior. There is roughly no reason to ever take this sort of line seriously.

Its a pretty common tactic and that's what we need to recognize. This is a tactic and even an earnest proponent of it references it while willfully ignoring the larger social context. They think if they, individually, are willing to apply something to everyone, that's a get out of prejudice free card. That doesn't really work on a personal level, and it is pretty much insulting on a cultural level.

I'll take the cultural level first, because, well, it's low-hanging fruit. Trotting out this kind of "well, I'd discriminate against everyone" line in response to instances of discrimination is just an attempt at derailing. It doesn't matter why you'd do it. What matters are the systems of discrimination. By centering the discussion on your hypothetical motives, you just seek to distract from focusing on the larger social issues at play. You make something about you which isn't remotely about you. The reality is, your supposed even-handedness isn't what is happening in our culture. When gay people are scolded for showing affection, there is no counterpart among straight couples. Straight couples aren't being thrown off airplanes for kissing. Thin people aren't subjected to ridicule for eating in public. Men aren't viciously denounced for being sexually assertive. Your standards aren't the point, because your standards clearly aren't what's happening.

I feel this generally fails on the personal level, too. All too often, "but, its wrong for everyone" thinking only ever comes up when its wrong for the group society agrees its wrong for. Its essentially a hallow claim. You protest that you'd feel the same way if this were happening to a socially privileged group, but you never have to worry about that because it never will happen to a socially privileged group. Its just something to make you feel better about cheering for the stigmatization of marginalized groups.

The fat community sees this played out a number of ways. I suspect the most recognizable would be the fashion policing of fat bodies. Fat people are often scolded for their clothing choices by people who insist they'd find it distasteful on any better. Not coincidentally, though, they only ever voice that disgust with fat people for whom it is culturally protected to scold and demean for their bodies. They love claiming their prejudice is without regard for body size, but they never question their own actions and how even-handed they actually are when directly scolding people. They might like to think it and maybe they'd snark at celebrities, but I've seen little reason to think these people are seeking out thin bodies to police at the rates they are seeking out fat bodies. People like claiming they think its wrong for everyone, but the next time you hear someone say that, ask them to demonstrate that thinking in action. They like saying that to scold marginalized people, but how much time are they actually out there being publicly outraged when privileged people do it? I doubt many would even pass that test, much less be able to justify the recentering aspects of that position that draw attention away from social discrimination.


Maggie After Dieting

So, by now, I'm sure you've become aware of a rather awful book aimed at children called "Maggie Goes on a Diet". The book depicts a teenaged girl who is bullied for her size and then goes on a diet and becomes thin and popular. While the protaganist is 14, the book's target audience is actually girls as young as 6. The cover depicts fat Maggie holding a dress in front of a mirror with her thin reflection looking back at her.

So, yeah, pretty much a horrible, horrible thing. Its been getting widespread condemnation, which, of course, means even people who think fat people don't deserve respect think this goes too far. The imagery of the cover really struck me for how tactless it is. It reinforces so many notions of there being thin people just waiting to come out of our fat bodies, a cliché which mostly serves to dehumanize fat people. We aren't actual people, just something covering up thin people. While a lot of mainstream critics were blandly attacking the book for not promoting fat stigma the right way, I kind of kept thinking to what happens after the book.

See, most fat people have dieted and lost weight in their lives. Maggie's story is one I've heard time and time again in fat accepting communities. Growing up fat and getting teased. Finally being able to maintain a low weight for some brief period of time before the inevitable swing of weight cycling brings their size up higher than it was to start. Indeed, its a cycle most fat people experience over and over. Maggie's story rings true to many fat people. Its just not the whole story.

So, as I had been dabling with Tumblr, I saw an opportunity for an art project and several weeks ago started posting my own book covers for sequels to Maggie's first story. Starting with "Maggie Gains Back the Weight and Learns to Accept Her Body":
Whether fat haters like it or not, gaining back the weight is next chapter of virtually ever diet success story. Not because Maggie failed or wanted to gain back the weight, but because dieting is a failed system. I did this pretty quickly in Photoshop, but it got a very nice response on Tumblr and I solicited suggestions from folks on Twitter. I got quite a few great ones (many of which I haven't gotten to, yet) of what else Maggie could do to empower herself. @FatandtheIvy had a particular good one which lead to my next Maggie sequel, “Maggie Gets a Master’s Degree in Gender Studies”:
As I continued making these, I've tried to avoid putting too much baggage on Maggie. She's really meant to be an "every fat woman", so I want people to feel free to envision her whatever they like. As far as I'm concerned, she's female presenting, relatively fair-skinned, and has red hair either by nature or design. Anything else, feel free to imagine. She can be cis or trans. She may be queer or straight or ace. I try not to even think of her as necessarily white, though I presume that was her original creator's intention. She's not pale, after all. I've known people of Latin America, Middle-Eastern, and Asian decent with similar coloring. I've clearly decided that Maggie is not bound by her original creator's intentions and I'm trying to recognize that she need not be bound by my own, either. Maggie is all about possibilities and the possibilities available to fat people are far more numerous than we are often led to believe. Yes, Maggie went on a diet. That just gives her something in common with nearly every fat activist out there. She, like every other fat person, deserved more than for that to be the whole of her story.

So, because not everyone follows me on Tumblr or Twitter, here are the continuing adventures of Maggie as she subverts her diet propaganda roots and empowers herself:

“Maggie Joins a Roller Derby League”
“Maggie Learns to Belly Dance”
“Maggie Goes to Re/Dress NYC”
"Maggie Joins a Punk Rock Band"
"Maggie Protests Fat Stigma"

More, surely, to come. You can follow me on Tumblr for updates.


The continued failure of fat people prevention

If fat people were preventable, why are there so many fat people?

Its notable that anti-fat crusading celebrity chefs have shifted to talking about "preventing" fat people. Its a tacit admission that there is no safe, reliable way to make a fat person into a not-fat person. Which in the minds of fat-haters just increases the imperative to prevent us. Stop us before we fat! Not that this relieves any stigmatization of actual fat people as they focus on the potentially fat.

If anything, it makes it much worse as we're now a cautionary tale complete with an utterly made-up statistic of fat people costing "$10,273,973 per hour". Imagine if that song from from Rent had a chorus of "How about... the supposed economic impact of the continued existence of fat people." As a Shakesville commenter notes, this highly specific number is clearly derived from a far less specific $90 billion a year number. Basically, if you take $90 billion and divide it by the number of hours in a year (8,760), and then round up to the nearest whole dollar, you get their figure. They took a broad statistical estimate (prone to all of the usual manipulations that come with estimates based on assumptions which presuppose what you want to believe) and broke it down to the hour to make it seem more authoritative.

Still, we get back to the essential question here, if fat bodies can be prevented, why are the so many fat bodies to use as cautionary examples? Why has Jamie Oliver and those who have come before him failed so triumphantly to prevent fat people? The prevention and elimination of fat bodies has been a medical imperative for decades. Stigmatization of fat bodies is enforced through massive amounts of social shaming from family and peers and authoritative shaming from medical professionals. If fat people were preventable, everything ever done by those trying to prevent them has been a spectacular failure.

In his petition, Jaime Oliver says we must "demand better" from our UN Representative. I'm not sure what he thinks better will be exactly. He's already gotten the whole structure of our society behind him. Its a rather massive degree of entitlement for people who already run the world to be demanding more. But such is thin privilege.

He isn't wrong that we need to demand better, though. But who we need to demand it from are Oliver and his cronies. We need to demand better from every self-appointed "obesity" expert who perpetuates shame and stigmatization in the name of failed policies. We need to demand better than treatments that have never been shown to work and prevention that has never been shown to be effective. Fat people must demand better. Better health care. More respect. Less discrimination.

You're damn right, Jamie Oliver, that we should demand better. Better than you. Better than self-promotional marketing campaigns that will do far more the elevate the global brand of a celebrity chef than improve the life of one fat person, much less make anyone thinner. We need to demand options to improve our health and well-being that are not fixated on making our fat bodies not fat. We need to demand that health stop being an issue of right or wrong, good or bad. We need to stop shaming people for their health concerns and valorizing those who do "right". We need to stop the endless repetition of failed directives and stop predicating medical treatment and medicinal shaming on the size and shape of our bodies. Fat people deserve better. We demand better.