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?

Monday Rant – Crap That Annoyed Me Last Week

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Every now and then I start a ‘rant’ post, but never seem to truly get there. It seems that the act of THINKING about ranting is theraputic enough for me. Apparently not this time … if you are reading this, put on your fire-proof gear and get ready for as much of a rant as you’ll ever read here.

1. Why Do We Continue to Support Sexist, Misogynist TV Shows?

So I really had no intention of posting this until Michele had a great post mostly about running and nutrition, but a little about The Bachelorette at the end. Again, the main focus is on running and nutrition, but she talked about her husband having developed a ritual for watching the Bachelor/Bachelorette shows, and her hating them. The reasons she gave were mostly around the predictable and formulaic nature of the shows, but I had some different thoughts: these shows are racist, sexist, misogynist and show warped and unhealthy views of relationships that no one should emulate.

Here is my full comment:

As for Bachelor/Bachelorette … one of the big reasons I hate these shows is that they project an incredibly unrealistic view of people and relationships. This is NOT love, it is ratings manipulation tied into people’s lives … people who get addicted to the money and recognition. Worse yet, the shows at their core are incredibly racist and sexist … finding ‘comfort’ in that? Ugh … that bothers me quite a bit.

But ultimately what bugs me is it trivializes relationships (of course, in our disposible society it is FAR from alone) and continues to push the mantra that a woman is only as valuable as her looks and sexuality, and a man can escape such scrutiny with enough money … again, ugh. I guess I should just leave it alone.

And to those who would call it mindless and harmless … how is THIS different than the other unhealthy images we push on young women?

OK, let me make sure I am clear – I am calling THE SHOW “racist, sexist, and misogynist” … I am NOT saying that people who watch it are those things.

Some pretty strong stuff though? I mean, sure this isn’t the greatest show, but isn’t calling it “racist, sexist, misogynist” a bit extreme? Actually no. Hopefully the sexist angle and pooor relationship angle are pretty obvious … but if not take a look at what some people are talking about here. Pretty illuminating stuff … and sad.

As for racism, this is a bit tougher, but just look at the numbers: across 18 seasons of Bachelor, 9 seasons of Bachelorette, 27 main stars and more than 700 contestants … and 14 (fourteen) non-whites have been on-screen, and none have made it into the later stages. As one site put it, those who weren’t tossed in the first cut were gone soon after. The message is clear – what is attractive is white men with money, and women with fake boobs, fake smiles, and white skin with a fake tan.

And really, the unhealthy relationship angle DOES matter. We can start by how two people who have not had a single day of ‘exclusive’ dating are supposed to suddenly be in a place of getting married? Or that ANY of this stuff represents a healthy relationship cycle? I really don’t think we would want any of our kids to be in the ‘herd’ portion of the ‘contest’, nor really as the main star.

Finally, as I said before, just watching the shows doesn’t make you guilt of sexism, misogyny, racism and so on … let’s do some quick math: shows get funded based on making money; money is made by a combination of low costs and high viewership (or at least a reasonable profit margin). And since we have already agreed to the well demonstrated fact that young men and women are influenced by media images … having shows that get millions of viewers means having a voice in millions of homes. And that voice is saying certain things. So again, it isn’t a definitive statement about people, but it should be a reminder that by watching you are helping spread the messages about body image, relative relationship power, and self esteem that the show puts across.

2. “The Pornographication of Fitness Needs to Stop”

The reality that young women are impacted by images in the media is neither new nor surprising at this point. But what has struck me is how ‘sexified’ the average fitness magazine has become. I get a ton of free subscriptions because of my work magazine subscriptions, and one was ‘Fitness’ … and honestly it is not a magazine I feel comfortable with in terms of content. The articles are pretty light and fluffy – but the bad part is they are interspersed with photoshopped images of young women posed not to show off their fitness level but rather how ‘hot’ they are. And really, many of the articles are more focused on ‘getting hot’ than ‘getting fit’.

I wrote about the thing earlier this year with a woman named Brooke and Shape magazine (if you haven’t read the resolution, check it out) … and in reality I feel that the outcome was more about Shape deftly handling the potential PR nightmare and throwing a freelancer under the bus, than it was a reflection of reality.

All of these things contribute to the ongoing body image crisis with young women. When body-builders and fitness-models in contests wear heels rather than shoes they might actually use in their workouts …

But I mean, none of this is NEW – here is a 2011 article about fitness magazine defining health in unhealthy ways:

With consistent content focusing on fast weight loss and the easiest way to get looking sexy, Shape and Self are challenging what “fitness” really means. Beyond objectification of bodies and the perpetuation of beauty ideals, these magazines are creating a new definition of health for women. I argue these magazines have re-packaged health and fitness in terms of thinness and sex appeal.

This week there was an article at the Huffington Post called “The Pornographication of Fitness Needs to Stop”, in which the author laments the images portrayed to women, saying:

The worry is that what women see in fitness magazines teaches them that what they are seeing is possible for them too. Women are desperate to be published in fitness publications, to be glorified into eternity through a photo. Women will do anything to get there. They will starve themselves to get lean enough to be able to see all muscular definition, they will experiment with recreational and pharmaceutical drugs, they will prostitute themselves to judges and more, just to make it.

She concludes with what we SHOULD be doing and the images we SHOULD be sharing:

Being fit in a functional rather than sexual way means you are entirely capable of being powerful no matter what your height, bust size, shoe size or hair color. You are empowered from the depths of your DNA because you did the work, you earned your place and you walk confidently because of it. A functionally fit You welcomes all sizes, shapes and colors, your boobs and butt are incidental. What we really need to build in the gym is a sense of self and what we are capable of. Believe it!

This summer I have seen more runners and walkers and bikers out and about than ever before – the cooler weather definitely has helped – and they have been in all shapes and sizes. A neighbor out walking last night told me to ‘get in a couple of miles for them’ – but they were doing great themselves. We are all out there trying to do healthy things, and SURE we want to look our best … I mean, who doesn’t want their exercise to translate into positive body changes. But that is secondary – and we certainly shouldn’t be judged entirely on whether we look like a swimsuit model!

3. Can We Just Stop Saying Stupid Things Already?

This is where I got started with my rant … because there seem to be SO MANY stupid and insensitive things begin said lately. From real life comments to overheard conversations to Facebook and more, it seems to be open season on saying stupid things … here are just a few:

– One person from outside the company hears another has been married about a year, and asks “when are you and your husband planning to have children?” The reply was very tactful “we haven’t decided if we will have children, but have looked at international adoption, and my spouse is a woman.” Considering the question was none of her business and presumptuous, and carried a tone as if some magical baby generator was available … I thought she did great … I was steamed inside of myself, but you already know that.

– Laura at Fit Fresh and Funny posted a heart-wrenching story, and she has talked before about how

– I have several real-life friends who are battling cancer, and also someone at work I know who is starting treatment again … and one of them shared this link about how to talk to someone with cancer. I thought it was great, but almost as if on cue, at work I overheard someone say about the person getting treated ‘are they STILL sick’. Ugh … when it comes to cancer, it is never REALLY gone.

There are more, but I am stopping here … because it is a theme: just stop and think before you talk. If you have no idea what to say, THAT is not a bad thing to say! Let people know you care, don’t be presumptuous about what you think someone else should think or feel, and never belittle someone’s feelings or life experience. M’kay?

4. Here’s a Shock – E-Cigs are Poisonous Crap Too!

I think I made it clear that I am not a big fan of smoking. It has been ‘interesting’ watching through my life as the tobacco companies have twisted and turned through the years, getting caught marketing specifically to minorities, then children, and then pushing hard into other countries that don’t have strict regulations.

As an interesting aside, as we are 50 years from the first surgeon general report on smoking, a NPR report reflects back on how smoking managed to stay so popular and widespread for so long after the report. Here is a comment from a woman who started smoking in the mid-70s (putting her close to my age):

“Because everybody was smoking. Mother and Father were smoking. Doctors were smoking. You were able to smoke in the movie theater, food shopping with Mom. Really, back then nobody knew what we know today.”

In large part that’s because the tobacco industry maintained for years that experts still disagreed about the evidence, Brandt says.

One of the most recent pushes has been in e-cigarettes, or vaporizers. Proponents claim there is no risk – because it is not smoke. I have always found that to be a silly argument – whenever you have a chemical reaction going on with transfer of material at the cellular level … there is risk.

Now we learn that e-cigs are NOT so safe after all … to the surprise of no one who ever really thought about it. Here is a quote:

while using an e-liquid with both solvents produced almost as much formaldehyde as a traditional cigarette. While the human body produces formaldehyde as a byproduct of normal metabolic activity in the cells, it is suspected of being carcinogenic when inhaled.

So yeah, take that e-cig out of public, away from others, and sure as heck away from babies and pregnant women. Because this isn’t the first report we’ve gotten … and it won’t be the last.

5. Time To Think About What Comes Out of Our Faces!

I grew up in a diverse area in suburban Boston and as a result I knew people of all different types and backgrounds and religions and so on … and even though things weren’t so ‘politically correct’ in the 70s, there were terms and phrases that WERE used (like calling me a Polack for my Polish background) and those that were NOT used (yeah, like the obvious ones). There were terms used as synonyms for other words (‘wicked queeah’ for weird, and ‘wicked retahded’ for stupid), but at the time most of the people saying things had no idea of the alternate meanings.

But through the years most of those terms have come and gone … thankfully. Being inclusive means not making others feel victimized for whatever my describe them in terms of race, physical situation, religion, cultural background, or anything else.

I remember being taken aback many years ago when we were doing wedding planning, being told that when having discussions with places we should ‘Jew them down’ … my initial reaction was a genuine ‘what?!?’ and after repeating I was just flabbergasted, and it is a moment that sticks with me to this day. It was an expression I’d never heard, and growing up with so many Jewish friends I was really taken aback. But there was never any offense intended – it was just a figure of speech from a different time.

Yet there are plenty of things that we STILL see all around, things like:

– Medical conditions: OCD / ADD / Bipolar / Depressed / Retarded and so on …
– Sexual orientation as a put down: ‘That’s so Gay’

There are lists here, here and here … but suffice to say that just like you would never see a couple of hairs in your shower and say ‘ugh, I’m a total cancer patient’ (I hope!), you should also remove all of the ‘I’m so OCD’ things from your litany of sayings.

So while I hate to use one of my fave bloggers as an example, but Suz used the expression ‘Indian-giver’ in a recent post, which is another expression I thought had been lost in the 70s … but apparently has stayed around without any regard for the origin of the expression (apparently the Kardashian klan makes a habit of native offenses). But here is a snippet of the meaning:

“Indian-giver” is a derogatory term for someone who gives something away and then asks for it back. It was coined during the struggle for land when settlers came to the new world. Many tried to “buy” land with trinkets from various tribes of American Indians, who at the time “had no concept of land ownership,” according to Waters. “[American Indians], in their conversations with settlers, did not understand that they were signing over the land.”

Now Suz made the great move to annotate the saying with a note and apology for possible offense – which is honestly much better than deleting it! And anyone who knows her knows offending anyone is about the LAST thing she’d want to do. So I mention it more as a reminder that sometimes we need to think about the things we are saying – this isn’t about ‘being PC’, but about showing our intelligence and respect for others by substituting out these lazy and offensive expressions.

To end this, there is an interesting article about sexism over at Medium, that says:

When you are a member of an oppressed group, it is difficult to recognize that you share some of your oppressor’s beliefs. But that’s why oppression works. These opinions become ours before we learn how to make our own.

That’s why we need to stop thinking about prejudices in terms of us and them. We are all sexist. We are all racist. Some more so than others, but still.

We are ALL guilty of saying things that offend others that we have no clue are offensive generalizations, or of passing judgments on other people, or otherwise doing or saying things that when brought to attention are not things we would choose to repeat. I can remember things from when I was a kid, I’m sure we all can. The trick is instead of getting defensive and complaining about the ‘PC police’, to just take a second and make a note to change a little saying or habit to make ourselves a better global citizen.

Bonus: Yeah, Enough Driving into Runner/Bikers/etc already

I have talked about this a lot, how we as drivers need to do our best to pay attention, and as people in general need to try to make the roads safe for everyone to share through whatever means possible. Because there was another case last week, this one local enough to me that members of one of the local running clubs were attending the funeral.

State police recently revealed that 33-year old Jason Townsend, of Nichols, N.Y. was arrested on Saturday as the suspect in a hit and run accident that occurred at 6:30 a.m. on Saturday. According to initial police reports, Daniel and Karen Manwaring were jogging along West Whitcomb Hill Road in the Town of Tioga when a blue Nissan XTerra hit them.

So what has been annoying YOU!?!