One More Pet Peeve – Fat Shaming and Thin Privilege

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I had another pet peeve, something I saw in Boston (and New York, and regularly here in the Corning area), but wanted to separate it out. I have another post I am working on related to my own observations from being both very fat and very thin as well as ‘normal’ – but I decided not to clog that up with this issue. So instead you get a quickie*** on something that I have thought about for nearly 40 years since I first heard judgments passed against me based on my size and shape: Fat Shaming and Thin Privilege.

One thing that came out of the comments in the pet peeve post was something Harold said about “the general lack of people being courteous to other people”. That is very true, but I am talking here about one of the last ‘acceptable’ forms of discrimination – Fat Shaming.

But first …

Yes I know there is ‘body shaming’ for being too thin.

Suz wrote about some harsh comments she received in which she was told that the person KNEW she had an eating disorder, I know Lauren has also heard theses things, and anyone who is thin and eats very light in public has either gotten ‘looks’ or had something said to (or about) them. That sucks, and being judged and having your feelings hurt really sucks.

But as noted in this article, personal emotional impacts simply are not the same as oppression.

Most People Reading This Have No Idea What it is Like to Be Obese

I know many folks have dealt with weight loss, and some started running and healthy eating to help control weight. But I had it put in perspective for me by someone I worked with for 10 years, during which time I got back to 220lbs once and 240lbs another time. She said after reading one of my posts that “I had no idea you struggled with weight.”

Because gaining and losing 20 – 40lbs on a body that has a healthy weight of ~190lbs or so is really not a big deal. I might look at pictures and think I was fat, but it never impacted things the way it did when I was >275 a couple of years ago, and especially when I was over 375 lbs and pushing out of a 48 waist pant size (for reference I now wear a 30).

The reason I note that most people I know who are runners have never been obese, is that they generally benefit from ‘thin privilege’, and having never ‘seen the other side’, chances are they don’t know.

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What IS Thin Privilege

To say that the treatment from strangers is different when you are 375+lbs compared to 185lbs … is an incredible understatement.

If you look at my food posts – my huge ice creams are celebrated on Instagram, and also in real life. I got one at a recognition lunch that was way too large for its description and everyone was enjoying checking it out and there was nothing uncomfortable or judgmental. And at our department boat trip I wanted to have dessert and share it, and when there was some left one person noted that the calories ‘were like rounding error’ for the amount I burn on my runs (remember- these are all math geeks like me!).

At this point I am lean, apparently look like a runner, and people treat me differently than I ever have been in my life. I am reaping the full benefits of ‘Thin Privilege’.

Here are some examples of Thin Privilege from this article:

– You’re not assumed to be unhealthy just because of your size.
– Your size is probably not the first thing people notice about you (unless you’re being thin-shamed – the opposite of fat-shamed).
– When you’re at the grocery store, people don’t comment on the food selection in your cart in the name of “trying to be helpful.”
– Your health insurance rates are not higher than everyone else’s.
– You can expect to pay reasonable prices for your clothing.
– You can expect to find your clothing size sold locally.
– You can expect to find clothing in the latest styles and colors instead of colorless, shapeless and outdated styles meant to hide your body.
– You don’t receive suggestions from your friends and family to join Weight Watchers or any other weight-loss program.
– When you go to the doctor, they don’t suspect diabetes (or high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or other “weight-related” diagnoses) as the first/most likely diagnosis.
– You don’t get told, “You have such a pretty/handsome face” (implying: if only you’d lose weight you could be even more attractive).
– People do not assume that you are lazy, based solely on your size.
– You’re not the brunt of jokes for countless numbers of comedians.
– Airlines won’t charge you extra to fly.
– You are not perceived as looking sloppy or unprofessional based on your size.
– You can eat what you want, when you want in public and not have others judge you for it or make assumptions about your eating habits.
– You can walk out of a gas station with a box of doughnuts and not have people yell at you to “Lay off them doughnuts, fatty!” (This actually happened to one of my friends.)
– People don’t ask your partners what it’s like to have sex with you because of your size.
– Your body type isn’t sexually fetishized.
– You’re more likely to get a raise or promotion at work than someone who is fat.
– Friends don’t describe you to others using a qualifier (e.g. “He’s kind of heavy, but REALLY nice, though”).
– The media doesn’t describe your body shape as part of an “epidemic”.
– You can choose to not be preoccupied with your size and shape because you have other priorities without being judged.

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How Fat Shaming Becomes Oppression

Fat Shaming is a well-enough known term that I don’t have to elaborate, but it is quite simply ‘active discrimination’ based on your weight or body shape (which also applies to thin shaming) … it is only one type of shaming, and people will get judged for pretty much everything. But Fat Shaming is a ‘special case’, because not only is it common (see ‘Fat Shaming Week’), it is held as acceptable to society. In fact, and as shown through many advertising campaigns, it is often seen as more than acceptable – it is seen as a GOOD THING, because some believe that fat shaming will lead fat people to stop being so fat. And if not, then they DESERVE what they get … at which point it crosses into oppression.

Oppression is a very strong word, but look at the definition:

Oppression involves “the systematic subjugation of a group of people by another group of people who have access to social power, the result of which benefits one group over the other, and is maintained by social beliefs and practices.”

Another Everyday Feminism post looks at the oppressive aspects of Fat Shaming:

1. It is pervasive.

It is EVERYWHERE in our social and societal institutions, to the point of becoming something of a shared consciousness. An example of this is fat jokes – everyone gets them immediately. Heck, there are TV shows based almost entirely on fat jokes.

2. It is restricting.

In the same way gender discrimination limits the paths of women, and racial discrimination limits opportunities for minorities, so too does fat discrimination limit opportunities for larger people .. just look at the ‘thin privilege’ list for a few.

3. It is hierarchical.

In much the way that the old discrimation joke said ‘I always pick the best person for the job … it isn’t my fault that the best person is always white, male, Christian and Republican’ … so too do we see areas where someone who isn’t thin has an inherent disadvantage.

I mean, it has come up before, but ask yourself – would you hire a fitness coach or nutritionist who is 50lbs overweight? Is their knowledge and expertise somehow lesser because they are fat? No – but because they are not fat we are allowed to pass judgment that they are unskilled (otherwise they would be thin, right?)

4. The dominant group has the power to define and name reality.

The terms “normal,” “real,” or “correct” are defined by the dominant powers. They define what is average, and what is ‘preferable’ or ‘desirable’. The problem is that the inverse – what is abnormal and undesirable – becomes obvious, and is accepted for scorn, pity and discrimination.

The article closes by noting how Fat Shaming as oppression differentiates from being made fun of for having scrawny legs, as one example that was used:

When you have hurt feelings – legitimate as they are – it isn’t the result of subjugation.

The negative attitudes toward you as a privileged person aren’t pervasive, restricting, or hierarchal.

You aren’t losing out on anything just because someone’s words, actions, or beliefs had an emotional impact on you.

Fat Shaming is EASY

We all know that body shaming – or shaming anyone for ANY reason – is wrong … but in many cases it is easy.

Take grocery stores – as noted at XOJane, “because I am fat, the contents of my shopping cart — and anything I put into my mouth, at that — are open to public scrutiny.”

I am very sensitive to fat shaming and public ridicule, and am generally very good about not judging others as an overall rule. Several of us have talked about how elements in our childhood play into things we like, dislike and are sensitive to as adults. This is one for me.

Yet I am not perfect … I have noted that my running, losing ~110lbs, and so on have been ‘inspirational’ to people at work and I had several people come up to me in 2012 as they were on their own journey, and also last year in Kentucky. The problem is when you have someone ask for advice, talk to you about their issues … and then you see them engaging in self-sabotage. It is hard to NOT judge, and I hate myself for it.

*** OK, reading through I see I planned this as a ‘quickie’ … um, totally failed. Oh well, you guys know me better than that by now! 🙂

What are YOUR Thoughts Fat (and Thin) Shaming, Oppression and Anything Else?

From the Archives: What Is A Runner’s Body?

As a reminder, I am on vacation this week and planning to be ‘mostly offline’ – so I scheduled a few post ‘reruns’ from the very early days of the blog (when I had very few readers)! This one was originally posted here.

The other day in her otherwise great post, Laura said “I don’t even “look” like a runner”. My first thought was ‘SURE YOU DO!’ … but my second thought was ‘I know EXACTLY how you feel!’ In fact, just before I started this blog I did a guest post on the subject for Ann’s Running Commentary. Here it is:

Here’s a quick mental exercise: close your eyes and think of a large group of people. Maybe folks you work with, go to school with, ran your last race with, or whatever. Have them in your head? Great – now separate them into two categories: those WITH runner’s bodies, and those who do NOT have runner’s bodies. OK, now place yourself in a group.

First off, I am going to assume that most of you put yourself in the non-runner’s body group. If not, you probably don’t need to read this … at least not for yourself!

Next, I am going to further assume that the division you made was very easy for some body types and difficult for others. Morbidly obese = non-runner; looks like Ryan Hall = runner. But what about someone who looks like Kara Goucher but is 50 pounds overweight? Or someone who has short legs, awkward joints, but is thin and muscular? And when you got to the ‘toughest’ group, what divided them?

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Right around college graduation

Now to break it down further, select 5 people from each side. Five runners, five non-runners. Choose gender as you wish to break down the differences. At this point you should have a pretty distinct idea about who does and does not have a runner’s body – and what it is about YOU that puts you in the ‘NOT’ category.

But what if I said that ALL TEN of these people had just completed a marathon? Suddenly you would start reassessing your decisions. And if I further said that of these ten, four had ‘Boston Qualified’ … but only TWO from the ‘runner’s body’ side? Again your decision-making would be thrown into turmoil.

So … What is the Deal with the ‘Runner’s Body’?

For many of us who came to running not as a high school or college sport but as a purely optional activity later on in life, weight loss was at least part of the motivation. Perhaps overall fitness, but even in that case it generally starts with dissatisfaction over how we look.

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At a convention the summer before college senior year

As I mentioned before, I graduated high school at 275 pounds and college at 375 pounds … so it is a fairly safe assumption that I was very unhappy with how I looked and felt. As I also mentioned, for me running was all about weight loss and maintenance – and after that the ability to eat more or less whatever I wanted with few consequences. Well, other than the consequence of never really hitting my ‘ideal’ weight, and that when I stopped exercising the weight would gradually come back.

But for the last year or so my goals have been about speed, distance, and seeking constant improvement in my running as well as my diet and overall health and fitness. It might seem like the same thing, but in reality my outlook, priorities and goal system is very different than ever before. I concerned myself with running shoes (instead of whatever fit and felt decent and was less than $50 on sale at Foot Locker), running clothes, form, pace, and general tracking.

I also learned about looking at food as fuel. Again, it is something I have always known and my eating habits tend to be naturally pretty good, but I learned about losing weight by myself with the advice of others in the 80s and again when my wife was in Weight Watchers a decade later. And frankly, aside from ‘eat real food and avoid processed crap’, most of that stuff was wrong. So now I am properly fueling and eating more ‘superfoods’ and learning great (and not so great) new recipes every week.

To go along with it, I started caring more about my appearance. Whereas before I was happy running ~12 – 15 miles a week and being ‘thin’, now I am asking more of myself. Not just more mileage, but also more speed, variety, and overall fitness.

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Early in the 2012 weight loss process … still close to 250lbs

I lay this all out for a reason: for the first time in my life people are quick to assume I’m a runner – I have been told that I ‘look like a runner’ in some form many times this year. Before I would get a ‘oh, you’re a runner’ reaction that was not dismissive but also did not do much for my already crappy self-image. Now I will get comments like ‘you can save on car rentals by running to the plant’ from people I have never directly mentioned my running.

It is weird – because I certainly do not see a ‘runner’s body’ in the mirror. What is it that holds me back? It is pretty simple: I do not see myself as either small or thin. Let’s take those one at a time.

I do not see myself as small: look, I played on the high school football team for a year until a faulty set of pads combined with a well placed hit gave me a hairline fracture on my sternum. More importantly? I played on the line. I played intramural football throughout high school and college – always on the line, where I was a force to deal with. My waist is a 32, and I am not likely to ever be smaller than that. That is small – but not something likely to put me on target for a ~0.5 height to weight ratio typical of elite marathoners. So … I will always see myself as ‘big’.

I do not see myself as thin: part of weighing 375 pounds when I was 23 before I started losing weight is that there are remnants that will never fully go away. By remnants I mean ‘loose skin’. Yuk, I know. Also, having regained 50 pounds a couple of times and the 100 pounds I lost in 2012 means more ‘skin stretching time’. Basically at the top of my stomach I have a ‘six pack’, but by the bottom I have a small ‘spare tire’ that will never fully disappear. While I KNOW it is loose skin in my head, the ‘u r fat’ voices in there always manage to drown out that knowledge when I feel vulnerable.

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2013 Finish of PA Grand Canyon Marathon

So … I have a ‘Runner’s Body’, but I don’t.

And that is where the problem begins and ends – inside of my head. Because since I started running in 1989 I have been a runner – and I’ve had a runner’s body. And so do you. It might not be your ultimate goal weight or fitness level, and you might not have the arms or legs or butt or abs you would like. But you have a runner’s body.

Because you know what defines a runner’s body? The body that carries you through the miles of running.

Retouching Video Shows the Power of ‘Unreality’

Before After Photoshop

We all know that when we look at models in magazines or online they have been touched up, and even the actors and actresses at award shows have gone through hours of preparation specific to making them look great on camera under those specific lighting conditions. Seeing a stage actor walk off the set is a quick reminder of the un-reality of that situation.

Seeing photoshopped images next to the originals is a very powerful lesson – but we still tend to allow ourselves to believe that the ‘after’ image is real and should be our goal.

Late last year track & field athlete Lauren Fleshman walked the runway for Oiselle as part of NY Fashion Week a mere 3 months after giving birth, prompting some discussion about how ripped and toned and tanned she looked so soon after having a baby. But as she revealed in her blog … she IS thin and fit, but most of it had to do with intense prep as well as some oil and spray tan!

when my pics from the NY Fashion Week Oiselle Runway show were posted, a lot of people commented that it was pretty crazy to have my body change that much in three months. And yeah, it was a little crazy but in real life, people don’t walk around spray tanned and flexed. Out of the thousands of photos taken at the runway show after all that tanning and primping and posture-holding, one or two of them looked good. A lot of them looked pretty gnarly. Weird facial expressions, lumpy bits, zombie walks…but nobody would ever know…

I definitely recommend checking the entire post out, because it shows the REAL reality as opposed to just that one iconic image of her on the runway.

Again, we know we can’t compete with airbrush, spray tan, and photoshop, but how many of us look at pictures like that and think … well I will never look like THAT (well, aside from the whole obvious gender thing … you get my point!)

This week a new video has been making the rounds I wanted to share – it is a music video in French with the singer slowly being photoshopped over the course of a song. By the end the singer is barely recognizable as the same person from the beginning – an they do a brief flashover of the original image to drive that point home.

How do YOU deal with maintaining perspective in an increasingly unreal world?

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